Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 37;   September 14, 2011: Telephonic Deceptions: I

Telephonic Deceptions: I

by

People have been deceiving each other at work since the invention of work. Nowadays, with telephones ever-present, telephonic deceptions are becoming more creative. Here's Part I of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
The Garden Tiger moth, Arctia caja

The Garden Tiger moth (Arctia caja). To avoid predation by bats, this moth has a furry body that absorbs sound, including the sound of the bat sonar. But this moth takes a further step: it emits clicks that jam bat sonar. In effect, the Garden Tiger moth deceives the bat by aggressive counter-measures. Its approach is analogous to the deception tactics humans use to deceive each other using telephones, in that both the moth and the human send intentionally confusing signals. Bats and moths have been engaged in this sensory "arms race" for millions of years. Humans have been engaged in telephonic deception for less than 100 years. It's reasonable to suppose that human deception tactics will eventually become far more sophisticated than they now are. View a video of bat/moth interactions.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

People who suddenly reach into a pocket or purse and pull out a phone to answer it might not actually be doing what they appear to be doing. Maybe they just don't want to talk to you.

According to a study entitled, "Americans and their cell phones," by Pew Research, released August 15, among U.S. adults surveyed, 13% acknowledge having used their cell phones at least once in the past 30 days to avoid interacting with someone. I suspect that percentage would have been much greater if the survey had included other motivations, such as wanting to appear to be important or busy, showing off a new high-status phone, wanting to move to a more private setting where one is less likely to be observed, or any of dozens of other motivations.

Since deceivers are not always clever enough to pull off their deceptions, you can sometimes detect the deception if you're aware of the more common mistakes they make. For example, a typical error associated with the I'm-answering-my-phone ploy described above is forgetting to disable the ring tone. Nothing looks sillier than talking into a cell phone that suddenly begins to ring. When you see this happen, it's probable that a deception was underway. And if you suspect this deception, you can test your conjecture by calling the person on your phone, if you have their number. If you hear the physical phone ring, then it wasn't engaged.

Here is Part I of a little catalog of examples of deceptions involving the telephone, and some methods for detecting them.

Circumventing personal cell phone bans
When using personal cell phones is banned at work, some use this ploy: Make the call, put the cell phone on speaker or use a blue tooth earpiece, then pick up the desk phone without making a call on it, and continue the conversation on the cell phone. They then appear to be speaking on the desk phone.
A typical mistake is to forget to warn, or fail to warn, the called party that the cell phone is on speaker.
Phone borrowers
Someone If you need an excuse to leave a
meeting early, having an actual
call come in on your phone
is usually good enough
who wants to borrow your phone to make a call might actually make a call, but they might also want to have a look at your recent calls.
Borrowers rarely forget that you can watch what they do. Lending someone your phone is not a good idea, but at least you'll know what number they called.
Faking incoming calls
If you need an excuse to leave a meeting early, having an actual call come in on your phone is usually good enough. With a scripting language like AppleScript, and a Skype account, you can easily arrange it.
Common mistake: forgetting to blank the screen and mute the sound of the computer that runs the script. Anyone passing by, with enough knowledge, can easily figure out what's happening.

We'll explore a few more tactics, and some serious security concerns, next time.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Telephonic Deceptions: II  Next Issue

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